Every vote counts on June 23
by Trevor Hammond
In this opinion it is not my intention to make lengthy arguments about how vital it is to the Gibraltar economy for us to remain in the EU, although it is undoubtedly so. Those arguments have been made repeatedly and will be made again between now and the referendum on the 23rd June.
It is not my intention to describe the legislation that has been introduced by the EU for its member states focusing on people and how that legislation has benefitted us in so many ways, whether it be human rights, the enhancement of worker's rights, environmental laws, the freedom of movement of people and all the benefits derived from this. The list is long and these arguments will be made often in the coming weeks.
The security that we derive from EU membership has been a hot topic in the past week or so with Prime Minister David Cameron highlighting what an important role the EU has played in keeping the peace in Europe for over 50 years and a former head of MI6 going on the record to describe the importance of mechanisms like the European arrest warrant in battling crime and maintaining security. But I do not wish to labour this point, as it is an argument which will doubtless be revisited often between now and the 23rd June.
All of these arguments are very important and apply in equal measure to both the UK and Gibraltar, but of course Gibraltar is in a very different position to the UK and it is a far more vulnerable position and it is important that we appreciate the underlying realities of that position. What will a Brexit mean for our community in particular?
In the event of a vote to leave the EU the UK's highest priority will be to begin and complete negotiation of a trade deal with the EU. This is somewhat ironic as it would find itself in effect trying to rejoin the club it has just voted to leave. These negotiations will undoubtedly be both protracted and difficult but vital to the economies of Britain and many EU countries. Pressures to succeed, and in the shortest time possible, will be enormous.
However, no one really knows how these negotiations will proceed; what we do know is that our neighbours will be at that table and that no deal can be struck without the agreement of the Spanish Government at European Council level. There will be many elements to this deal that will be important to Spain, the Spanish economy and many Spanish nationals. This however has never been a deterrent to Spanish Governments historically and when presented with this once in a lifetime opportunity to push the British Government for concessions over Gibraltar, does anyone believe that they won't try their utmost to apply pressure, effectively holding the British Government to ransom?
Can there be any doubt that this would be the case? Why would anyone who understands Gibraltar's relationship with Spain possibly doubt that this will be the case? Even now they stretch EU membership requirements to impose upon us and make every effort to have Gibraltar excluded from EU legislation that would be favourable to us.
In the event of a Brexit we would be extremely vulnerable. We will of course survive but the peculiar importance of the referendum to us cannot be underestimated. Do not believe that our voice cannot make a difference because if the result is as close as polls indicate there is no knowing how important our vote will be. Regardless of the outcome it is essential that Gibraltar be unified and send the strongest possible message to the British Government: that we are of a single mind to remain within the EU and that should we be forced to leave because of the result, we expect you, we oblige you to look after our best interests. That is the view of all the people of Gibraltar.
In a democracy every vote counts, do not think that we are small and therefore will not make a difference. Come the 23rd of June be sure to exercise your right to vote and let us speak with one voice, a voice that sends a resounding message to the UK that our will is that we remain in the European Union.